Book presentation of “Making sense of non-sense”

PRESENTACION DE LIBROWe finally organized a meeting to present the edited book “Enactive Cognition at the Edge of Sense-Making: Making Sense of Non-Sense“.

When: 12:00, Nov. 26, 2015
Where: Auditorio César Carrizales, UAEM campus, Cuernavaca, Mexico

We will have one editor (Tom Froese), two authors (Juan Gonzalez and Dobromir Dotov), and several commentators (José Luis Díaz and others) presenting their views.

Attendees will be able to take advantage of a special discount to order their copy of the book from Palgrave Macmillan.

Seminar: The role of ritualized mind alteration in the origins of the symbolic mind

I have been invited to give a seminar as part of the Biweekly Colloquium of the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” at the University of Kiel, Germany. The seminar will take place this afternoon, 16:00 – 18:00 Uhr; Building and room LS1 – R.204, Leibnizstrasse 1.

The role of ritualized mind alteration in the origins of the symbolic mind: A new perspective from cognitive science

Tom Froese

The potential roles of altered states of consciousness and hallucinations for the early stages of human prehistory have been hotly debated. Recently, this debate has become caught up in disputes about how such altered states could have been induced and what kind of hallucinations might have been experienced. In this article I first sidestep these issues in order to return to the big question of why we might expect such states and experiences to have been important in the first place. I draw on ongoing developments in the cognitive sciences to provide several interdependent reasons for hypothesizing that they played an essential role in the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Finally, I show that this hypothesis is unaffected by current disputes about the potential availability of certain psychoactive substances in prehistoric Africa and Europe.

Selected reading material:

Froese, T. (2013). Altered states and the prehistoric ritualization of the modern human mind. In C. Adams et al. (Eds.), Breaking Convention: Essays on Psychedelic Consciousness (pp. 10-21). London: Strange Attractor Press

Froese, T. (2015). The ritualised mind alteration hypothesis of the origins and evolution of the symbolic human mind. Rock Art Research, 32(1), 90-97

Froese, T., Woodward, A., & Ikegami, T. (2013). Turing instabilities in biology, culture, and consciousness? On the enactive origins of symbolic material culture. Adaptive Behavior, 21(3), 199-214

The attentive brain, the deluded brain – what is reality?

AFFICHE_Reality_11_2015_V7_Oct_3Next week there will be a conference entitled “The attentive brain, the deluded brain – what is reality?” taking place from Nov. 4-7 in Mittelwihr, France.

The organizers encourage attendants to think out of the box and discover new horizons at the cross-roads of science and meditation.

I have been invited as a keynote speaker and workshop contributor. The title and abstract of my main contribution are as follows:

How isolated are we really? Toward a science of being-with others

Tom Froese

Traditional cognitive science has approached the phenomenon of understanding others in terms of a Theory of Mind framework. This framework was originally proposed to overcome the problems raised by a pair of seemingly self-evident assumptions: 1) mind is a property of an isolated brain, 2) a person’s mind, like their brain, is therefore completely hidden from the perceptual perspective of others. If so, then any scientific theory of social understanding must explain how one individual’s internal mechanism can infer meaning from another individual’s meaningless external physical movements. I will try to demonstrate that this is a misguided explanatory project for several reasons. When we interact with others we normally do not perceive them as mindless zombies, nor is our mind isolated from them. Therefore, what is needed is a scientific theory that can do justice to the perceptual presence of others and our mental interconnectedness.

Review of “Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory”

ContemporarySensorimotorTheoryAs part of the Frontiers in Robotics and AI research topic “Re-enacting sensorimotor experience for cognition” we published a book review on this topic.

Book review: Contemporary sensorimotor theory

Tom Froese and Franklenin Sierra

Consciousness, with its irreducible subjective character, was almost exclusively a philosophical topic until relatively recently. Today, however, the problem of explaining the felt quality of experience has also become relevant to science and engineering, including robotics and AI: “What would we have to build into a robot so that it really felt the touch of a finger, the redness of red, or the hurt of a pain?” (O’Regan, 2014, p. 23). Yet a practical response still requires an adequate theory of consciousness, which brings us back to the hard problem: how can we account, from a scientific point of view, for the phenomenological character of experience? Over a decade ago, O’Regan and Noë (2001) proposed a new approach to these questions, the so-called sensorimotor approach to perceptual experience. How far has this approach come and what are its outstanding challenges? The volume Contemporary Sensorimotor Theory, edited by Bishop and Martin, takes stock of the current state of the field.

Keynote at “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition”

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to an autumn school on “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition” organized by the Horizon 2020 project Socializing sensorimotor contingencies (socSMCs).

The event will take place in Boltenhagen by the Baltic Sea, Germany, October 11-17, 2015. My title and abstract are as follows:

Enactive and phenomenological approaches to social cognition

Tom Froese

One of the most central and also controversial claims of the enactive approach is that embodied social interaction is constitutive of social cognition. Evolutionary robotics modeling and dynamical systems theory demonstrate that at least in principle there is nothing mysterious about this claim. But can it also be verified experimentally? The most promising results so far are based on the “perceptual crossing” paradigm, in which pairs of participants interact haptically in real-time via a minimalist human-computer interface. They try to locate each other in the virtual space while avoiding distractor objects. It has repeatedly been shown that individuals’ actions become interactively self-organized in a way that collectively enhances task success. However, until recently there was no evidence that this sensorimotor self-organization was also experienced from the point of view of the participants, thereby calling into question whether it constitutively affected their social cognition. I will present the latest studies in which an accompanying phenomenology of intersubjectivity was clearly reported and quantified, thereby enabling us to identify the specific pattern of sensorimotor coupling underlying the emergence of a consciously shared moment of experience. This is some of the first evidence supporting the concept of a genuine and irreducible second-person perspective that is mutually enacted via joint actions. Intriguingly, the process of its emergence shares similarities with the first stages that are hypothesized to occur during the development of social awareness in pre-verbal infants.

Keynote on identity, alterity and language

socioligia2The Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City is holding an international meeting on the topic “La otredad en sociedades transculturales: Identidad, Alteridad y Languaje“, September 23-25, 2015.

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to present my recent research. The title of my talk is “La ciencia cognitiva de la identidad y alteridad: Teorías, Modelos y Experimentos”.

3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas


At the end of the month the “3er Coloquio Internacional de Ciencias Cognitivas” will be held in Durango, Mexico, August 26-28. I have been invited as a speaker. My title and abstract are as follows:

When ‘you’ and ‘I’ transform ourselves into ‘we’ – and back again

Tom Froese

There are a growing number of cognitive scientists trying to overcome orthodox methodological individualism. In contrast to standard Theory of Mind accounts, they argue that social understanding primarily consists of a direct perceptual experience of each other, whereby this genuinely second-person perspective is co-constituted by the skillful coordination of bodily interaction. We studied this possibility by means of the perceptual crossing paradigm, in which the embodied interaction of pairs of adults is mediated by a minimalist virtual reality interface. As hypothesized, there was a positive correlation between objective measures of coordination and subjective reports of clearer awareness of the other’s presence. In addition, there was a tendency for coordinating participants to independently report within seconds of each other that they had noticed the other, suggesting that there was a mutual recognition of one genuinely shared experience. We also performed a qualitative study of free-text descriptions of the experience during the moment of recognition, as well as a diachronic analysis of the results. Since participants had to implicitly relearn the bodily skill of how to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be a recapitulation of the initial developmental stages of infancy, starting with more dyadic forms of social awareness, which develop into a more differentiated self-other awareness. Our preliminary results indicate that such a recapitulation occurred in some cases.

Open-ended evolution workshop

To start off this year’s ECAL in York, I participated in the workshop on Open Ended Evolution: Recent Progress and Future Milestones. The tile and abstract of my mini presentation are as follows:

Groundlessness avoids openness reduction in hierarchies of emergence

Tom Froese

One way of measuring open-endedness is in terms of the maintenance or increase of degrees of freedom. If emergence is defined as the collective dynamics resulting from nonlinear coupling between two or more components, then the degrees of freedom of the emergent phenomenon cannot in principle be greater than the sum of degrees of freedom of its underlying components. In practice, it tends to be less than that sum because the collective dynamics are subject to more constraints than the isolated dynamics of each component. The same logic applies to the creation of novelty at each emergent level of organization, thereby rapidly choking off possibilities for open-ended emergence of new layers of complexity. This is not a problem in practice if we consider nature to have sufficient degrees of complexity to begin with (although this is a problem for simulations). I propose that this is not even a problem in principle if we consider nature to be groundless (although this excludes simulations by definition).

The workshop will continue with a follow-up session on Friday.

Artificial Life XV in 2016, Cancun, Mexico

Next year’s International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (Artificial Life XV) will take place in beautiful Cancun, Mexico, July 4-8, 2016. I am part of the local organizing team, helping to make the first Alife conference in Latin America a memorable event.


For more information see the conference website:

European Conference on Artificial Life 2015

Next week the European Conference on Artificial Life 2015 will take place in York, England, July 20-24. I will be giving a poster presentation on the following topic:

Toward a behavior-based approach to the origins of life and the genetic system

Tom Froese

In the origin of life community there has been a dispute about whether metabolism or replication came first. Yet both of these approaches are in implicit agreement that the first forms of life were basically passive. That shared assumption has begun to be challenged by a new generation of metabolism-first approaches, emphasizing that movement and adaptive behavior could have played an important role right from the start. After introducing recent research on this behavior-based approach to the origin of life, I offer a preliminary assessment of what this new approach implies for the origins of the genetic system.

Click on the title to download the extended abstract.

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